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Ten Years Later, Trying to Close a Rent Control Loophole in DC

by Nena Perry-Brown

As DC continues to reckon with its dearth of affordable housing, some laws that passed years ago but were never implemented, are resurfacing. One of those is the Rent Control Amendment Act of 2006.

The law amended the original rent control law passed in 1985 to put in place the following provisions:

  • Eliminating rent ceilings and rent ceiling adjustments that haven’t been approved in accordance with petitions;
  • Creating parameters for how much and how often landlords can raise the rent on vacant and occupied apartments; and
  • Requiring that the Mayor issue reports on establishing an income-based set aside program.

While rent ceilings have been abolished and the latter provision has arguably been realized through the creation of inclusionary zoning, landlords have long been able to take advantage of the vacant-unit loophole over the years in order to increase profits and remove units from rent control restrictions.

As written, the rent increase parameters would restrict landlords from raising the rent on a given vacant unit to no more than 10-30 percent above the previous rent paid on the unit. While landlords have been known in recent years to renovate vacant apartments or common areas as a trade-off to renting those apartments at market rate, this amendment would allow that landlord to raise the rent by 10 percent, if a “substantially identical” unit in the same complex is renting for that amount. The rent on a vacant unit cannot be raised any higher than what is charged for a “substantially identical” unit in the same complex.

The amended law also would limit rent increases on occupied apartments to only once a year and clarifies the standard for rent adjustments. Landlords would only be able to raise rents by as much as the published adjustment of general applicability, plus 2 percent, except in cases of a landlord petitioning for a rent increase, or 10 percent (whichever is less); the increase would be adjustment of general applicability, plus 2 percent, or 5 percent for seniors or persons with disabilities (whichever is less).

The Rental Housing Commission, an independent quasi-judicial body, had been tasked with enforcing enactment of the amendments to the city’s rent control laws and publishing the annual standards for rent adjustments, among other things. However, the Commission has only recently caught up with a backlog of cases related to landlord-tenant issues, and only got around to drafting enforcement of the Rent Control Amendment Act in fiscal year 2016.

As of now, that draft has gone through several rounds of review; however, the DC Council Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization has expressed concern that individuals and business stakeholders have not been involved in commenting on the draft prior to the regulations being published for public comment.

Correction: The rent increase parameters for vacant and occupied apartments have been clarified per information from the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ten_years_later_closing_a_rent_control_loophole/12926

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